Ad Fraudsters’ Next Major Target: Mobile

jeff-banderData-Driven Thinking” is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by Ephraim (Jeff) Bander, president and chief revenue officer at Sticky.

The global mobile advertising market will hit two significant milestones in 2016, according to eMarketer: It will surpass $100 billion in spending and, for the first time, account for more than 50% of all digital ad expenditures.

Ad fraudsters are probably more excited by these projections than brands, publishers and ad tech vendors. As they did with display, ad fraudsters are beginning to see massive dollar signs in mobile and are breaking out their bag of tricks.

While location data has given the mobile channel a competitive edge over other digital channels, digital marketers must now also question its accuracy and effectiveness. Only 34% of ad requests with location data were accurate to within 100 meters of the user’s true location, according to Thinknear’s Location Score Index.

Agencies have begun bearing the brunt of ad fraudsters’ schemes, too. In one campaign, for example, Mediacom International noticed that 85% of impressions served were not within the location specified for its client, Jon Hook, the agency’s head of mobile, told Adweek. “I’m not talking about minor discrepancies – these are significant discrepancies that we’re seeing.”

But before self-defeat kicks in as ad fraudsters capitalize on mobile’s “Wild West” phase and immature technology, there are steps we can take to cut off their life support.

Location, Location, Location

Hype over location-based marketing continues to grow for good reason. Knowing one’s location significantly expands a brand’s ability to engage a consumer and increase conversions by closing the loop with information on nearby stores, offers and events. But what should marketers do if more than half of available mobile inventory with location data is incorrect?

The buy and sell sides need to think like savvy ad fraudsters and make it difficult for criminals to easily replicate human activity and location information with machine technology and algorithms. For example, ad creators can require consumers to interact in a way that a bot cannot. Captchas have become successful verification programs by asking users to perform tasks that a bot could not.

Applied to mobile ads, brands and publishers could develop compelling experiences that motivate consumers to verify their location. A quick-service restaurant, for instance, can serve an ad that offers discounts if the user picks out a relevant food item among unrelated images, before following up with a ZIP code request and a discount.

This simple example is the kind of thinking that will help brands and publishers beat ad fraudsters at their own game.

Ad Fraud Detection And Verification Services: Inexpensive, Necessary Insurance 

As mobile ad fraud becomes rampant and ad tech catches up, it makes sense to buy insurance now via ad fraud detection and verification platforms and managed services companies.

Each one has its unique value proposition, cost structure and methodology for tackling mobile ad fraud. It can range from alerting clients of potential fraud before a transaction happens, during a campaign or after a campaign ran. As an added benefit, partnering with these companies will help organizations become much more educated and smart about how to detect and manage mobile ad fraud as it evolves.

Standards Against Fraud Will Solidify As Mobile Matures  

As seen in the evolution of digital advertising from display to programmatic, standardization and accreditation are a critical path to a better, efficient ecosystem. Mobile is no different. Last November, more than 50 vendors, agencies and brands partnered with the Mobile Marketing Association to create a set of standards.

While mobile has its unique set of challenges of addressing fraud, I anticipate that we’ll first see very similar themes from display and desktop advertising carry over into formulating mobile industry standards. For example, the Media Rating Council (MRC) issued in May interim guidance on mobile viewable impression measurement. It has become increasingly clear that the MRC couldn’t simply extrapolate desktop-based viewability rates to mobile-based ads.

Over the next 12 to 18 months, mobile ad fraud will reach a tipping point where the industry will no longer be able to tolerate its accelerated growth. But by taking careful strides toward cutting off ad fraudsters’ oxygen, the industry will be able to preserve mobile’s expanding role in digital media’s future.

Follow Ephraim (Jeff) Bander (@Stickyadman), Sticky (@sticky_ad) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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